Uncertainty

monalisa-4893660_1920

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. Psalm 91:2,3

We live in uncertain times.  There is uncertainty to our health caused by the Chinese Coronavirus, and uncertainty financially because the world’s economies have shut down in reaction.  Travel has been limited, restaurants are closed except for takeout, and we are supposed to be sure we stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

It’s as if someone hit “pause” on the TV remote and everything stopped.  It has led to uncertainty which leads to anxiety which, in turn, leads to fear. What is the Christian response to these novel times?

For me, it was when I learned I had prostate cancer several years ago. It was an alarming diagnosis.  I was less fearful when I knew for certain that I had cancer.  Waiting for the medical tests results, on the other hand, was very uncomfortable and nerve wracking because of uncertainty.

Once you have certainty, you can deal with it. Until then, you are in emotional no-man’s land, often being tossed and turned by what you read in media, or worse, what you see on social media. In fact, staying off social media for the near term may be a good idea.

How do you find certainty in uncertain times?  The answer, for me, comes from Psalm 91 (above) which is worth reading in its entirety. My certainty comes from my faith in God – I know that He is in control through good or bad.

I have learned the hard way not to let my circumstances dictate my faith in God.  If happenings, uncertainty or circumstances control your emotions, then your happiness is totally dependent on things outside your control:

If your happiness is based on happenings, what happens when your happenings don’t happen to happen the way you wanted them to happen.”

You might need to reread that a couple of times.

Given that the next generation – millennials and Gen Z alike – are predisposed to high levels of anxiety, I am concerned for them at a time when their world has changed overnight.  School has stopped; stores and offices are closed. People, if they can, are working from home.

Zoom, WhatsApp and Skype have become a substitute for face to face meetings. Congregating together is now limited either by law or voluntarily.   Some places have total lockdowns where no one is permitted out of their homes.

Even in normal times, the next generation was isolated by the digital world. They have few real friends, other than those who put “likes” on social media posts. They don’t really have a social safety net.

That increases isolation and  hopelessness. Calls to 911 about suicide have increased across America. It reminds me of the quote from a man in a halfway house in Connecticut who said: “The mind alone is a dangerous place.”

At times like these, we need to remember that God is in charge and no pandemic or economic condition known to man will change that.  While the chaos may seem like water overwhelming us, I am comforted by the passage from Isaiah 43:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

             and through the rivers,  they will not overwhelm you;

             when you walk through fire, you will not be burned;       

            and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God.”

Even though there is chaos or uncertainty and we feel overwhelmed by “rising waters”, we should never forget that there is One who is walking on the water and waves.  And He loves each of us fiercely.

I mention this because of the anecdotal stories of the Portland police posting on Facebook for people to stop calling 911 because they were out of toilet paper. Or, two women shoppers in Australia fighting each other over paper towels in a store until someone broke it up.

These are adults behaving badly and, sadly, there are many more stories like this.

What do their actions show to the next generation?  Unfortunately, they show panic.

The challenge is to engage the next generation in a way to allow them to have a faith in the risen One. They are spiritually looking for answers at a time like this, and we can supply them, but we need to show them by our actions not jus

We need to be the adult in the room and its our actions that are being seen and watched. Are we acting out of panic or wisdom? They can tell the difference.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  You can be the calm in the storm in your mentee’s life at times like these. Stay in touch even if it is only virtual.

WORSHIP: Listen to Waiting Here for You  – Christy Nockels

RESOURCE:  Dealing with Anxiety During the Pandemic

SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner and entering your email address.

 

 

           

 

 

Epic Panic

panic

“The LORD told Gideon, “With these 300 men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites. Send all the others home” Judges 7:7

If you delete the letters “dem” from Epidemic and Pandemic, you get Epic Panic (give or take an “i”).  I haven’t seen anything like the reaction from the Coronavirus spread in the world, and I’ve been around the block a few times.

People bought enough toilet paper to last them through 2021. Seems like an overreaction, but as one commentator noted, it is really a herd instinct, and when some see others stocking up on certain items, the rest are sure to follow. Kind of like lemmings going over a cliff.

Until recently, no one had ever heard of the terms flattening the curve nor social distancing. Now they are commonplace as the world searches for ways to inhibit the spread of the virus.

For perspective, here’s Christian advice that was forwarded to me by a friend:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed, in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

This applies today.  It was written by Martin Luther 500 years’ ago in a letter to Rev. John Hess in 1527.

The new normal is to stay at home unless necessary. People are trying to reorient their lives to a world where elbow bumping has replaced handshakes and hugs. I personally miss the latter, I must admit.

As Christians, we adapt to changing circumstances. My Friday morning bible study which has been going on in Raleigh for 38 years used Zoom to have a virtual bible study. There were at least 75 people on-line at the same time.

Peoples’ lives and work have to be reoriented. Almost all major sports have been cancelled or postponed.  I would hate to be a commentator on ESPN (the sports network) who now has to fill his time slot with commentary on what is not going on.

Are these steps over the top? Time will tell.  What has been interesting is that the public is totally unsettled by all of this. As one of my African friends says, “It’s alarming how the virus had had a grip on humanity in various dimensions.”

Life in the U.S. and elsewhere has ground to a standstill. But that’s what was intended.  The only group of people who haven’t gotten the message are the millennials and college age Gen Z.  I attribute their lack of social distancing to their sense of entitlement  attitude.

Self-gratification trumps doing something for someone else, like not killing others by infecting people at risk. More recent data indicates that millennials can get very sick after all, contrary to early data.

The next generation is already at a high level of anxiety, often about issues that, in the grand scheme of things, are not something to be anxious about.

But telling someone to be “not panic” in the face of panic and anxiety probably doesn’t help.  It’s like telling an alcoholic to stop drinking.  It’s the correct advice, of course, but not useful to the recipient.

The panic is not justified by facts and research (this article is updated daily and gives a clear picture of the real risk).

The above verse from Judges is instructional in times like these. Picture Gideon facing an army of 32,000 Midianites with only 300 men. That should bring panic to most of us.  Against overwhelming odds, seemingly, but with one caveat: God was on his side.

As Christians, we should take time to get ready and prepare as best we can, and then do as well as we can, resting in the assurance that God is with us with every step.

I remain concerned for the next generation who are more fragile than previous generations. The have had adversity removed by parents and schools, and many are ill equipped to handle these troubled times. On top of that, they reason by emotionalism where subjective feelings often override truth, objective reasoning, and facts.

The challenge is to come alongside the next generation as mentors and parents and be the adult in the room. They need to see calm in the face of adversity.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors should be aware that the next generation may have poor coping skills to deal with this novel virus pandemic. They need someone to be calm in the face of adversity.

FURTHER READING: Evidence over Hysteria – Updated daily and worth reading. 

Covid – 19 – a CDC Primer

The Generational War Over Coronavirus – WSJ

WORSHIP: Listen to I Am Not AloneKari Jobe

SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner and entering your email address.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pandemic

 

fluPraise be to God….who comforts us in all our troubles.  2 Corinthians 1:3,4.

The outbreak of the Coronovirus in Wuhon, China, has been a study of how and how not to deal with an epidemic.  It has caused international disruption on a scale not seen before, including bans on flights from Europe and China, cancelled sporting and musical events, and even cancellation of NCAA championships.  The list of disruptions grows daily.

Just writing this post has been difficult because events have been fast developing. This post was originally titled “Epidemic”, for example. The media hasn’t helped, often describing events in overblown rhetoric. A balanced view of the pandemic is shown in these graphs which are updated daily.

What is known is that the vast majority of cases (80%) result in very light symptoms, often not much more than a common cold. On the flip side, it is extremely virulent and has twice the rate of infection as the flu.

Some that have the virus are asymptomatic (i.e. they show no symptoms) which is what makes Covid-19 dangerous because people can spread the disease without knowing they even have it. That is the rationale behind most of the public cancellations of events, schools and closing of offices. It is unprecedented.

The vulnerable demographic group are those over age 60 who often have pre-existing medical issues which might compromise their immune system. Those issues include respiratory problems, diabetes, or those undergoing treatment for cancer, among others.

To put this latest virus in context, the previous health epidemic came from the swine flu (H1N1) which occurred in 2009.  By the time the world actually dealt with swine flu, it affected 60 million people resulting in around 274,000 deaths.

We should not forget that the annual toll from influenza is much more severe. At the end of February, 18,000 people died of the flu in the U.S. alone, despite the availability of a flu vaccine. Worldwide, it is estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 people die from the flu every year.

After 2010, the CDC and WHO (World Health Organization) began developing infrastructure to handle a pandemic. Those changes are broad and have global impact and are summarized here.

Under these advances, there is increased capacity for detection, surveillance, testing and prevention.  The latter is particularly important because as cases have popped up, those affected have been quarantined or put in isolation which lessens the potential for spreading.

There has been a heightened awareness of personal hygiene and washing of hands as well as a sensible cancellation of large public events. Companies and churches have increased using disinfectants on public spaces.

Many cases have been caused by contact with surfaces rather than directly from another person. The Covid-19 virus can be potentially dangerous for up to 3 days on surfaces.  The CDC reports that it can be transmitted through the air so actual contact may not be necessary.

Companies are taking precautions, some even requiring employees to work from home. My son’s company closed their office for the rest of March.  My church sent a lengthy email describing what to do including washing hands and the placing of extra hand sanitizers throughout the church.

People are weighing the risk of travel, particularly to international destinations. I was supposed to visit West Africa in late May but have now postponed the trip until later in the fall.

None of these actions occurred 10 years ago.  That’s an improvement, so that I am predicting that this health crises will be handled better than ever before.

An equal concern is that the Covid-19 virus is impacting the world’s economy and stock markets in remarkable ways.   Those impacts may be short-lived, but they have the potential to send the world’s economies into a global recession.

More than 100 universities have cancelled in-person classes, and the number is growing. Teaching is being done on-line.  Local schools are mulling similar cancellations even when no one has been diagnosed with Covid-19.

The next generation that has demonstrated a high level of  anxiety before the outbreak. I think it is time for the adults in the room to help assuage their concerns. First and foremost, they are the least likely to have serious symptoms of Covid-19.

Secondly, creating social space by limiting contact with real persons is a concern for the next generation.  Communicating through the internet is no cure for loneliness for a generation that is already isolated in a digital world.

Thirdly, while the bible is clear in its predictions of plagues in the last days, the Christian response in times like these is not to panic.  God is in control. This is also an opportunity to remain calm when others are in panic mode. It is a ministry opportunity when others are fearful of their lives.

Personal hygiene and keeping social distance to avoid spreading the virus actually does work. The small portion of the population who are old and have unrelated medical issues that compromise their immune systems are the ones who should take the greatest precautions in being around crowds.

As Christians, we know that life on earth is tenuous. We live in a fallen world. But we have the assurance of salvation that provides a basis to remain calm in the face of adversity.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors should be mindful that the next generation may be struggling with Covid-19 and it may be an opportune time to discuss why Christianity matters in times like these.

FURTHER RESEARCHGraphs showing Covid-19’s Effect on the World.

WORSHIPHoly Water  lets us know our need for God

SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner and entering your email address.

 

 

The “S” Word

S-word

Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame. Romans:10:11

I won’t keep you guessing: “S” stands for Sin, or at least it did.  But is it an outdated term in today’s post-Christian culture?  For those over 40, it is a familiar concept. For millennials and Gen Z, not so much.

To the next generation, the “S” word is Shame similar to the Asian culture which is devoid of any Christian heritage.  It is a shame based culture.  One’s conduct, choices and actions  are limited only by whether it would bring shame to another. It is called ”loss of face”, meaning humiliation or loss of respect.

We grew up with a concept of original sin from Adam and Eve in the garden. We learned what was right and was wrong largely from Biblical constructs. A lot of that has gone out the window with the next generation who are likely to see right and wrong in relative terms.

A guilt culture is where conduct, decisions and actions were limited by whether or not they crossed the line of right and wrong.  If something was “wrong”, it was called a sin, resulting in guilt.

Shame, on the other hand, requires other people to determine whether something will receive the condemnation of others.

For clarity, God doesn’t grade on a curve.  A sin is a sin; “God has not given us authority to establish values for different sins” argues Jerry Bridges in Respectable Sins.

But what happens when something is no longer seen as a sin?  It becomes a slippery slope.  A textbook example is homosexuality which is biblically viewed as a sin (so is having a sexual relationship outside of marriage, for that matter).

Our culture (and even our churches) have softened the meaning of sin.  People don’t commit adultery; they have an affair. Business leaders don’t steal; they commit fraud. People don’t lie; they “lack candor”. People are not gluttons; they are merely overweight.

Millennials were the first generation that approved of same-sex marriage, and it occurred so quickly that it caught most of the Christian community off guard.  In ten years, a cultural convention of the past 2000 years was overturned.

The reason?  Because the millennials didn’t think it was either wrong or a sin based solely on their collective experience.  Their values are based on social media and groupthink without any Biblical worldview.

Abortion is now accepted, even in the third trimester, even though scripture is clear that it is wrong. The phrase “pro-choice” does not inquire about the wellbeing of a baby, only of the right of a mother.

Having a child out of wedlock is no longer frowned on. Recently, a celebrity proudly announced she was pregnant and that she and her fiancé were thrilled.  Culture has gradually eroded Christian morals. There is now the concept of  The Acceptable Sin according to William Huckaby.

The issue is important to the next generation whose right and wrong is based on their experience and their feelings.  Yet the evangelical culture still uses the concept of sin as a tool of evangelism.

I don’t have an answer for this, but what I would suggest that the approach to evangelism using sin may not be effective anymore with the next generation.  They don’t see sin as an issue, but they will respond to something that provides an answer to being broken, hopeless, depressed, burned-out or worse.

A generation that doesn’t regard certain conduct as wrong and will be turned off by an approach to make it so. Their reaction may label you as judgmental, homophobic or worse.

This is important because Gen Z, in particular, are quite open to the LGBTQ movement. As a result, we are seeing encroachment in our schools teaching things about gender fluidity or celebrating Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Fortunately, biologists are pushing back on the transgender agenda, labeling it as an “ideology” that harms women, gays and especially feminine boys and masculine girls. Still, this pushback is a small effort compared to the liberal narrative there is something called “gender identity” which goes beyond biological or scientific reality.

The challenge here is how best approach the next generation in a culture where “sin” is all but disappearing.

Even the church hasn’t addressed this well in its apparent acceptance of things that are sins too. Christians are often preoccupied with societal sins but may be blinded by their own need to deal with their own subtle sins.

We are all sinners at birth (Psalm 51:5). It is by the grace of God that we live and exist as Christians. It is that same grace that will reach the hearts and minds of the next generation even if they don’t understand the concept of sin.

They are broken in many ways. But grace covers shame, the other “S” word, not just sin.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Grace may be a better avenue to reach the next generation for Christ than trying to convince them they are sinners.

FURTHER READING: Respectable Sins – Jerry Bridges

The Acceptable Sin– William Huckaby

The Dangerous Denial of Sex  Wall Street Journal

Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve  – Lewis Smedes

WORSHIP: Listen to Grace Flows Down  – Christy Nockels

SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner and entering your email address.